To See and See Again

Bahrampour, Tara. To See and See Again: a Life in Iran and America. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999.

Reason read: The Portland Public Library Reading Challenge has a category called “a book by an Iranian or Iranian American author.”

Tara Bahrampour was eleven years old at the height of the Islamic Revolution. As the bullets flew over garden walls, she and her family escaped Iran to the Pacific Northwest with one suitcase each. Old enough to remember her Iranian culture, but young enough to embrace America’s freedoms, Bahrampour balanced two very different lifestyles in her heart and mind. Having an Iranian father and American mother partially helped Bahrampour navigate the divide while she was young. When Bahrampour returns to Iran for a wedding, she is the first in her family after fifteen years to do so. The perspective from a twenty-six year old woman blossoms from remembered street games and childhood toys into the realities of the treatment of women, ceremony surrounding meals, and the strict regime after the Islamic Revolution. She is understandably nostalgic for the Tehran of her youth but fiercely protective of her Americanized viewpoints and attitudes. At first Bahrampour is na├»ve to the changes of her homeland’s rule and is shocked when she has trouble repossessing her American passport or when she hears stories of people escaping the military by wearing sheepskin and crawling over the border with a herd of sheep. Reality sets in when she is detained for talking to two blond tourists. As a Moslem Iranian woman officials fear her morality could be in danger. In the end, aside from rebuffing marriage proposal after marriage proposal, Bahrampour comes to an understanding about where she belongs. The Iran of her youth has left an indelible mark on her memory. At the core, it is who she is no matter where she goes.

Quotes to quote, “Everyone was so dazzled with what they wanted Iran to be that they missed seeing what it was” (p 248) and “…if that is how it is with loss – that you never really let go of the thing you are missing” (p 356).

Author fact: Bahrampour has written for predominantly New York-based publications. To See and See Again is her first memoir.

Book trivia: Each chapter is introduced with a black and white photograph. Nothing more, nothing less.

Playlist: “Love Story,” “Grease is the Word,” “You’re in My Heart” by Rod Stewart, “Barbara Ann” by the Beach Boys, “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA, “Slip-Slidin’ Away” by Paul Simon, Boney M., Supertramp, REO Speedwagon, the Bee Gees, “Carry on Wayward Son,” “Tavern in the Town,” “Cider Through a Straw,” Ace of Base, Metallica, Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, and of course, Bahrampour’s mother, Karen Alexander.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about To See and See Again except to describe the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Iran” (p 107).


Everything That Rises Must Converge

O’Connor, Flannery. Everything That Rises Must Converge. New York: The Library of America, 1988.

Reason read: September is Southern Writers Month.

Flannery O’Connor’s short stories are like the crack of the whip dangerously close to your head. Sometimes humorous, sometimes peculiar, often times violent, but always breathtakingly true. Imagine the nervous laughter that bubbles up when you realize that whip has missed your face. You laugh because you want it to be a skillful miss as opposed to a clumsy mistake. Imagine the quirkiness of characters who are dangerously misunderstood. There is always something a little sinister about O’Connor. She enjoys the abrupt turn of events that take her readers by surprise. She holds us witness to the good, the bad, and the ugly of humanity.
Everything That Rises Must Converge is a compilation of nine short stories:

  • “Everything That Rises Must Converge” – we start with the discomfort of a mother’s obvious prejudice.
  • “Greenleaf” – a fight over property and propriety.
  • “A View of the Woods” – a punch to the gut when you least expect it.
  • “The Enduring Chill” – another tale about an overbearing mother.
  • “The Comforts of Home” – mother and son disagree about taking a brash girl into their home.
  • “The Lame Shall Enter First” – a widower tried to take in a second son with horrible results.
  • “Revelation” – another story heavy on the racism.
  • “Parker’s Back” – a man obsessed with tattoos
  • “Judgement Day” – an elderly and racist father is terrified of dying in New York City.

Quotes I liked, “There was a continuous thud in the back of Asbury’s head as if his heart and got trapped in it and was fighting to get out” (p 565), and “Behind the newspaper Julian was withdrawing into the inner compartment of his mind where he spent most of his time” (p 603), and “In addition to her other bad qualities, she was forever sniffing up sin” (p 655).

Author fact: Flannery O’Connor died too young at the age of thirty-nine. Imagine the books and stories she could have written had she lived to a hundred!

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Everything That Rises Must Converge in “Growing Writers” or “Southern Fiction” but she did mention O’Connor as a great fiction-writer and a classic.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. Once in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 107), and again in the chapter called “Southern Fiction” (p 222).


Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?

Christie, Agatha. Why didn’t They Ask Evans? New York: William Morrow, 1934.

Reason read: September is Christie’s birth month. Read in her honor.

Bobby Jones cannot play golf to save his life and yet he insists on trying. While out on the links he loses his ball over a fog-shrouded cliff. While searching for it Bobby is shocked to find instead a mangled and dying man. Had he fallen off the cliff in the fog? Was he pushed? Bobby has stumbled onto a mystery. Of course he has! This is an Agatha Christie murder mystery, after all. When the man opens his eyes and with all lucidity asks Bobby, “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” Bobby is haunted by the question. Exactly who is Evans and what was the question that should have been asked? Bobby shares this strange incident with his friend, Lady Francis Derwent, and together they decide there is more to the story. Their suspicions deepen when Bobby learns a photograph the dead man had been carrying was swapped to hide his true identity. Alex Pritchard is actually Alan Carstairs. Soon there after and out of the blue, Bobby is offered a job in Buenos Ares. When he doesn’t leave England someone tries to poison his beer. It is obvious someone wants Bobby off the case, but who and why? Like a good Scooby mystery, the villain wraps up all the clues.
As an aside, there were details in the story that didn’t make sense. If I found a dying man I wouldn’t ask someone else to stay with the body while I left to go play an organ at my father’s church. I think my father would understand my absence given I had just witnessed a man die in front of me. Also, Frankie gained entry into the suspected murderer’s home by faking a car accident. Under the guise of having a concussion a doctor in on the ruse tells the Bassington-ffrench family Frankie “cannot be moved.” She is to stay with them until she is well. However, in no time at all she is making friends with Mrs. Bassington-ffrench and playing tennis. Nonetheless, this was an enjoyable story.

Line I liked, “Ignoring Mrs. Rivington’s treatment of doctors as though they were library Books, Bobby returned to the point” (p123).

Author fact: Christie is touted as one of the best selling authors of all time.

Book trivia: Why didn’t They Ask Evans? was originally published as The Boomerang Clue.

Nancy said: Pearl said Why Didnt They Ask Evans? was on her bedside table, waiting to be read.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the introduction (p ix).


To the Nines

Evanovich, Janet. To the Nines. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003.

Reason read: I started the Stephanie Plum series in January in honor of Female Mystery Month. I am now on #9. To the Nines is the penultimate Plum book on my Challenge List.

The best thing about Evanovich’s Plum series is the consistency of characters and timeline. With every book, Stephanie’s life progresses with little backtracking or inconsistency. Evanovich does a great job catching the reader up, especially if someone is jumping into the series in midstream and hasn’t read books one through eight. Reading the entire series is helpful, but not necessary.
Even though I am irked about Stephanie’s relationships with Morelli and Ranger (more on that later), I appreciate the growth in them. I don’t think it’s a spoiler alert to say that at the end of To the Nines Stephanie drops calling Morelli by his last name and moves onto calling him Joe. Is that a subtle hint that she is ready to get more serious? She did just move back in with him and gave up her apartment to her sister. Speaking of Valerie, she just had a baby (out of wedlock) and that definitely has Stephanie’s biological clock ticking a little louder. Enough of that. Onto the plot:
The bounty hunting part of Stephanie’s life takes more of a back seat in To the Nines. This time around, she is more on the side of the hunted. Someone is sending her creepy messages coupled with a calling card of one rose and one carnation. It’s the same message sent to several other victims. Could she be next on this serial killer’s list? This time Ranger and Joe make a concerted effort to protect Stephanie as she tries to figure out who is capable of getting so close to her they can take a lock of her hair?
Spoiler alert: for those interested in Stephanie’s vehicular destruction, her new sunshine yellow Ford Escape survives the entire story.

Things that irked me: what in the world is so special about Stephanie Plum? Why does she have not one, but two very hot men giving her all the attention in the world? What makes them stay around even though she can’t chose between them? In all actuality, Ranger probably isn’t a choice. He’s probably just a plaything, but still…Hmm. I have to admit, I liked Stephanie as a hypocrite. She can flirt with Ranger but still get jealous when she thinks Morelli is up to no good with another girl.
Another thing that irked me was less of an appearance by Rex. He barely factored into To the Nines at all.

Lines I liked, “I know emotion covers a lot of ground, but I couldn’t hang a better name on my feelings” (p 84), “There’s a difference between being trusting and stupid” (p 294).

Author fact: Evanovich has won the John Creasy Memorial Last Laugh and Silver Dagger awards.

Book trivia: To the Nines features pineapple upside-down cake, as usual.

Playlist: Eminem and Tom Jones.

Nancy said: To the Nines is not exactly a murder mystery according to Pearl. She did say you will laugh all the way through the series.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).


Confederacy of Dunces

Toole, John. Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces. New York: Grove Press, 1980.

Reason read: Why was this book on my list? I completely forgot. Probably something having to do with Hurricane Katrina.

Confederacy of Dunces is like cilantro: either you love it and you want it on anything and everything, or you hate it and you think it tastes like soap; you can’t come within ten feet of it. Meet Ignatius J Reilly, the trumpet and lute playing, obese and unemployed, lazy and insolent video gamer still living with his mother at thirty years old. He truly is the master of the deadly sin of sloth.
Reading Confederacy of Dunces was like playing the Untangle Me Game. You know, the one you play with string. Take twenty extremely long pieces of string, tangle them all around a room and then have twenty people chose an end to each piece of string. They must try to crawl over and under one another in an effort to untangle the mess. There are usually prizes at the other end of each string. Trying to follow the plot of Confederacy of Dunces was like trying to crawl under someone with extremely bad body odor in the hopes your entanglement will wind its way far, far away from the offending smell. Except. There was no prize at the end. I didn’t get it. In addition, I have a low tolerance for repetition and Confederacy is redundant on multiple levels. I will say, the best part of Confederacy was the culture of New Orleans. It lived and breathed like an unintended character. The parts about New Orleans I laughed about.

Line I liked, “When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip” (p 6). Okay. Funny.

Author fact: John Kennedy Toole at thirty-one committed suicide in a remote field. Maybe he was too much like Ignatius and couldn’t find his way to success.

Book trivia: Many different people have tried to make A Confederacy of Dunces into a movie. I don’t think it has happened yet.

Nancy said: Pearl said that A Confederacy of Dunces is an example of “What Mothers Ought Not to Do” (p 160). She also called it a “raucous tragicomedy” (p 168).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Mothers and Sons” (p 160) and again in the chapter called “New Orleans” (p 168).


Friends and Heroes

Manning, Olivia. Friends and Heroes. New York: New York Review Books, 1966.

Reason read: to finish the series started in June in honor of the Bosnian War.

When we catch up with the newlyweds, Guy and Harriet Pringle, they have escaped the Balkans to Athens, Greece. World War II is ramping up. Mussolini is ever encroaching yet the Greeks refuse to believe the Italians could invade them. No! Not them! In the midst of a global conflict, the Pringle marriage is also at conflict. Harriet still hungers for Guy’s attention. It’s a little off-putting how needy she is. Having escaped Bucharest Harriet believes her husband will finally put her first. She is not the outsider in Greece as she was in the Balkans. However, Guy continuously lives for the undivided attention of his students no matter where he is relocated. As an unemployed lecturer, he fills his time putting on plays with his admiring students and friends. He is so preoccupied with their rapt attention he doesn’t notice or care that his wife slips away for long walks. In truth, he often encourages it. His continual pawning her off to other companions soon leads to her actively seeking out a new crush. The Pringle marriage is so trying that I wanted her to go with the man who seemed to love her back.
This being the third installment of the Balkan Trilogy, many characters remain. Yakimov and his greed end up in Greece. I found his character to be an exaggerated caricature: always hungry and riling people. But speaking of characters, Manning is able to make all of her characters give a political commentary on World War II without having the rely of detailed descriptions. It is all in their dialogue.

Quotes to quote, “He only had to arrive to take a step away from her” (p 654), “No one would dance while friends and brothers and lovers were at the war” (p 657), and “She told herself that animals were the only creatures that could be loved without any reservation at all” (p 962).

Author fact: Manning lived the life of Friends and Heroes. She and her husband spent the war years in Rumania before escaping to Greece and then Egypt.

Book trivia: Friends and Heroes could be a stand-alone novel, but is best read as the finale of the Balkan Trilogy.

Playlist: “Tipperary,” “Yalo, Yalo,” “Down By the Seaside,” “Clementine,” “Bells Rang Again,” and “Anathema,”

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Friends and Heroes. It’s not mentioned at all.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Reads, Decade by Decade (1960s).


Lindbergh

Berg, Scott A. Lindbergh. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1998.

Reason: Charles Lindbergh died in the month of August – read in his memory.

From the moment Charles Lindbergh watched the Aeronautical Trials at Fort Meyer in June of 1912, he was hooked on planes and flying. Watching the maneuvers sparked his young mind’s imagination. Fast forward fifteen years and May 21st, 1927 is a date for the record books. It is the date Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, nonstop between America and Europe.
As an aside, I think it’s fantastic that Lindbergh made the Spirit of St. Louis trip in 33 hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds. That’s one for the numerophiles. From that moment on Lindbergh became a global sensation. Like a folk hero, dozens of songs and poetry were written for and about him. A dance was created in his name. People wrote books and plays about his achievement and clamored to have a piece of his fame for their very own. For men and women alike, touching him was like experiencing nirvana. To talk to him was like seeing the face of God. He was that famous.
But Charles Lindbergh was not just a pilot. Flying aside, he became interested in finding a way to transplant body organs safely. He became interested in Anne Morrow, enough to marry her and have a son. Thus began Lindbergh’s second bout with unwanted notoriety. When his first born son was kidnapped and killed the entire world was rapt with the horrific drama. Every update had people sitting on the edge of their seats. How could this happen to a famous colonel? When the tragedy had come to its terrible conclusion Lindbergh wanted to give up all aspects of aviation. It all led to publicity. The fame and notoriety got to be too much. Then came the Louise Brooks-like slide into scandal. The world was positioned for another Great War and this time Lindbergh was making headlines for all the wrong reasons. He had been enamored with the Germans for their ingenuity for a long time, but siding with them at this tumultuous time was the absolute wrong move. Berg’s biography of Lindbergh is thorough and compelling through the good, the bad and the ugly.

As another aside, Berg reports Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Morrow, was a “prime exemplar of someone who devoted her life to public service through volunteerism.” That’s all well and good, but if my annual income from only interest and dividends from stocks and bonds was approximately $300,000 (in 1930s dollars), I too would be spending a great deal of time volunteering. If I didn’t need to punch a time clock to pay my bills what else could I do with the hours of my day?

Author fact: Berg was the first and only writer to have been given unrestricted access to the Lindbergh archives.

Book trivia: Lindbergh includes three sections of black and white photographs.

Playlist: “Star-Spangled Banner,” “Marseillaise,” “When Lindy Comes Home,” “Der Lindberghflug,” “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” and “Eternal Light,”

Nancy said: Pearl points out Lindbergh contains a beautiful and moving chapter on Lindbergh’s flight.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Flying Above the Clouds” (p 89).


Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Lawrence, D.H. Lady Chatterley’s Lover. New York: Signet Classics, 1959.

Reason read: Let’s talk about sex.

You know a book is trouble when it’s published privately in Italy in 1928 and again in France a year later. It wasn’t published openly to the masses until 1960 when it was promptly banned across the world. The United States, Canada, Australia, India, and Japan all found fault with it. Finally, when it was at the center of a 1960 British obscenity trial, things came to a head. No pun intended. Not really.
Who doesn’t know this story? Lady Chatterley is an attractive upper-class woman married to an equally handsome man who happens to be paralyzed from the waist down. Connie is young, spoiled, and has certain…needs. Her husband says he understands, but a man and wife’s varying perceptions of the same marriage are striking. Clifford Chatterley doesn’t really understand the resentments of his wife. A poignant scene is when Connie watches a mother hen protect her eggs and feels empty. She wants a child. She wants a lover. She finds solace in the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors, who lives on the grounds. His cottage is a short distance from the estate…It is the classic tale of class differences. Lawrence goes a bit further by exploring themes of industrialism (Clifford wants to modernize mining with new technology) and mind-body psychology (the struggle between the heart and mind when it involves sexuality, especially when it is illicit in nature). The ending is ambiguous, as typical of Lawrence’s work, but it ends with hope.

As an aside, I would have liked more insight from Connie’s sister, Hilda. Hilda helped Connie have her affair even though she sided with Clifford Chatterley. Another aside, I have often wondered how many people self-pleasured themselves with Lady Chatterley or her lover. Wink.

Lines I liked, “What the eye doesn’t see and the mind doesn’t know doesn’t exist” (p 18) and “If I could sleep with my arms round you, the ink could stay in the bottle” (p 282). Sigh. So romantic.

Author fact: Lawrence went into self-imposed exile because he refused to stop writing about the human condition. His critics couldn’t handle the truth and often banned or censored his work. Lady Chatterley is rumored to be autobiographical in some places.

Book trivia: The genre for Lady Chatterley’s Lover is literary erotica and yet some libraries (including my own) catalog this in the juvenile section. True story. I happen to be reading the Signet Classic edition which is the only complete unexpurgated version authorized by the Lawrence estate. According to the back cover, “no other edition is entitled to make this claim.”

Nancy said: Pearl included Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the list of “stellar” examples of literary erotica.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Sex and the Single Reader” (p 218).


Hard Eight

Evanovitch, Janet. Hard Eight. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Female Mystery month.

It is hard for me to dislike Stephanie Plum. No matter how bumbling she is when she tries to catch a fugitive, I have to laugh at her antics. No matter how conflicted she is about the attentions from two different men, I root for her. No matter how food motivated she can be, I like her. I can’t help but bond with a girl who likes peanut butter, potato chip, and pickle sandwiches as I do. But. But! But, as a bounty hunter, she sucks. She still sucks eight books later. Much like trying to collar Eddie DeChooch in Seven Up, Stephanie can’t seem to capture Andy Bender. She goes through four sets of handcuffs trying to bring him in.
A more serious second “job” involves a child custody case. Hired by her neighbor to find a missing granddaughter and great granddaughter, Stephanie inadvertently gets herself caught up in a dangerous battle with a psychopath. She isn’t a detective, but doesn’t dare say no to the family who has lived next door to her parents for years. Even if it means finding snakes in her apartment, tarantulas in her Honda, or a dead man on her couch, Stephanie (and sidekick Lula) go on the hunt for a woman running from a nasty divorce. She even gets her two love interests, Morelli and Ranger, involved in the adventure.
Here are the consistent details: Rex the hamster is still alive and kicking. He has to move to Stephanie’s parent’s house when her apartment becomes a crime scene (again). Grandma Mazur is also alive and kicking. She doesn’t frequent the funeral homes looking for a date as much in Hard Eight, but she’s still feisty. Ranger is still a mystery but Stephanie is slowly cracking that nut. She had sex in the bat cave.

Lines that made me laugh, “”Home is supposed to be the safe place, I said to Morelli. Where do you go when your home doesn’t feel safe anymore?” (p 163). I laughed because Stephanie’s worry is so ironic. Her apartment gets broken into on a regular basis and only now she isn’t feeling safe?

Author fact: I just found out Evanovich has the same birthday as my sister. Interesting.

Book trivia: Hard Eight sets up the relationship between Stephanie’s sister, Valerie, and divorce lawyer Albert Kloughn.

Nancy said: Pearl said Evanovitch’s series couldn’t be called mysteries. You’ll laugh too much.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).


Olive Kitteridge

Strout, Elizabeth. Olive Kitteridge. New York: Random House, 2008.

Reason read: In Rockland, Maine, there is a festival dedicated to lobsters. Read Olive Kitteridge in honor of the critters.

Comprised of thirteen short stories with varying narratives, Strout cleverly tells the story of Olive Kitteridge. Olive is lurking in most of each connecting tale. Sometimes characters gossip about her, like in the story called “Winter Concert.” In the first story “Pharmacy” Olive’s husband, Henry Kitteridge, doesn’t seem to have a happy life since he retired from his old fashioned pharmacy. Olive is presented as a woman who doesn’t suffer fools easily. She shows the world an angry and proud face most of the time. I think they call it “Yankee stoicism.” Other stories:

  • “Incoming Tide” – Olive is present when a woman tries to commit suicide.
  • “The Piano Player” – Angela O’Meara plays the piano for ungrateful guests.
  • “A Little Burst” – Olive’s only son is getting married to a woman she doesn’t like.
  • “Starving” – Harmon is starving in his marriage while he befriends a girl with anorexia.
  • “A Different Road” – a couple are victims of a crime by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Winter Concert” – A couple attends a concert where the wife learns of her husband’s secret rendezvous.
  • “Tulips” – bitterness.
  • “A Basket of Trips” – a death cuts a marriage short.
  • “Ship in a Bottle” – a girl is stood up on her wedding day.
  • “Security” – Olive tries to visit her son in New York; a story about expectations.
  • “Criminal” – the story of a neurotic kleptomaniac.
  • “River” – My favorite story of the the bunch. Olive is a widow and learning to be polite.

Author fact: Strout also wrote Amy & Isabelle and Abide with Me. Both are on my Challenge list. I read Amy & Isabelle in 2007 and I read Abide with Me in 2013.

Book trivia: Olive Kitteridge won a Pulitzer in 2008.

Playlist: “Good Night, Irene,” “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “The First Noel,” “We Shall Overcome, “”Fly Me to the Moon,” “My Way,” “Feelings,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” Beethoven, “Fools Rush In,” “Whenever I Feel Afraid,” Phish, Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, “Some Enchanted Evening,” “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” and Debussy.

Nancy said: Pearl said Olive Kitteridge would be an excellent choice for a book club.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the curious chapter called “The Maine Chance” (p 135).


Leadership Essentials You Always Wanted to Know

Picardi, Carrie. Leadership Essentials You Always Wanted to Know. Vibrant Publishers, 2021.

I should preface this review by saying I read Leadership Essentials on my phone. I have no idea what the print version will look like. The very first thing I noticed about Leadership Essentials is that it is a very short book. It’s made even shorter by pages of expert reviews, a page of author information, a page for acknowledgements, a page of a table of contents, and a few blank pages thrown in for good measure. The second thing to jump out at me was the discount code for three books for the price of two. That set the tone for me. It’s all about the sale.
As an author fact, Picardi is also a professor which is apparent when she presents learning objectives as deliverables for her book. I thought that was a nice touch – here is what I promise you will get out of this book. Not many “self help” books do that. What I didn’t appreciate were the quizzes – at least on the phone. When I went to find the answers (using the outside link) I was confronted with someone wanting to chat with me. There was no clear way to find just the answers so I gave up. I also gave up reading the book entirely because, at least on the phone, it wasn’t user-friendly. Picardi gives sound advice on how to be a good leader. I just found the delivery method to be lacking.

Book trivia: Leadership Essentials is part of a self learning management series.


Dicey’s Song

Voigt, Cynthia. Dicey’s Song. New York: Ballantine Books, 1982.

Reason read: to finish the series started in July in honor of Kids month.

When we catch up to the Tillerman family (after reading Homecoming) they are in Maryland living with the grandmother they never knew they had. Dicey is a teenager starting to come of age with homework and budding, albeit reluctant, friendships. Her two younger brothers, James and Sammy, are in thriving in school. Her only sister Maybeth is a musical prodigy. Her family is becoming self-sufficient. Everything should be great for Dicey as the eldest sibling. Her family is not on the run. They have a roof over their heads every night. They have food on the table at every meal. They have someone to look after them. They are all in school. But, for Dicey something is intrinsically wrong. For the longest time she had control over her family. Keeping them together and safe was all she knew. It is what she did best. When her siblings start exercising independence Dicey isn’t sure how to feel about it. Throughout the story she struggles to learn to let them go their own ways, together but apart. At the same time Dicey deals with the internal confusion of becoming a young woman without her mother’s guidance. My favorite moments were whenever Gram’s hardened exterior softened as each child reached for her love.

Author fact: Voigt has written over a dozen young adult novels.

Book trivia: Dicey’s Song is a Newbery Award winner.

Playlist: “I Gave My Love a Cherry,” “Amazing Grace,” “Who Will Sing for Me?” “The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” “Pretty Polly,” “Amazing Grace,” Beethoven, and even though they didn’t name the song, I recognized the story of “Matty Groves” (thanks to Natalie Merchant).

Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Dicey’s Song.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 169).


The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Kamkwamba, William and Bryan Mealer. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. New York: Puffin Books, 2015.

Reason read: Recognizing the Malawi cabinet crisis of August 1964.

William Kamkwamba was no ordinary child from Malawi. He had imagination, ambition, and a curiosity that couldn’t be kept down even when his family couldn’t afford to send him to school. His drive was to improve his family’s situation after a severe drought left the landscape barren and his community on the brink of starvation, but really he loved to learn. He loved school so much he found a way to sneak into classes after he had been kicked out for nonpayment. Once found out he resorted to borrowing books at the library. One particular physics textbook resonated with him. Using money from a wealthy friend and the knowledge gained from reading and scrounging for supplies anywhere he could find them (flip flops, his father’s bicycle, melted PVC pips, the spring from a ball point pen…) Kamkwamba set out to build a windmill. His first invention in 2001 was modest, creating enough power to light a lightbulb. From there, Kamkwamba went bigger – big enough to charge cellphones and light his parent’s living room. The bigger the windmill, the more he could power. Soon his ambition went beyond his family and friends to extend to his entire community of Wimbe and he attracted the attention of powerful people. Doors opened across the world for Kamkwamba.

As an aside, I had a penpal from Malawi. He was killed in a car accident.

Author fact: William Kamkwamba received a degree from Dartmouth.

Book trivia: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind became a NetFlix documentary.

Playlist: Dolly Parton, Black Missionaries, Billy Kaunda, and “Silent Night.”

Nancy said: Pearl called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind “heartwarming (but not soppy) and inspiring.” She also gave a shout out to librarians and libraries.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 7).


When Rain Clouds Gather

Head, Bessie. When Rain Clouds Gather. Oxford: Heinemann Education Publishers, 1995.

Reason read: Confessional – For weeks I have been calling this book When Storm Clouds Gather. I have no idea why.

In the most rural part of Botswana, untouched by western agricultural technologies, political refugee, Makhaya, and Englishman Gilbert Balfour try to revolutionize traditional farming methods. For the tribespeople of drought-ridden Golema Mmidi, this change is not always welcome, even if it means the end of entrenched poverty and the threat of starvation. Traditions run deep and when your tribal chief doesn’t approve of the new ways, the battle is more uphill than ever. Set against the backdrop of farming is the subject of love. Despite unrelenting unfavorable climate, the tribespeople of Golema Mmidi are passionate people. Head drew details for When Rain Clouds Gather from her own experiences as a refugee, living at the Bamangwato Development farm. It is hard to tell if the romantic parts are autobiographical as well.

Quotes to quote, “He was a platform speaker who never got down from the platform” (p 58), “It meant that if you loved people you had to allow complete invasion by them of your life, and he wasn’t built to face invasions of any kind” (p 67),”There were too many independent-minded people there, and tragedies of life had liberated them from the environmental control of the tribe” (p 141), and “You have to be loved a bit by the time you die” (p 179).

Author fact: Bessie Head was a biracial South African author and lived as a refugee like her character, Makhaya.

Book trivia: When Rain Clouds Gather was Bessie Head’s first novel.

Nancy said: Pearl said When Rain Clouds Gather is Bessie Head’s best-known novel. She also included what a librarian said about the book.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very simple chapter called “Botswana” (p 42).


Playing Ball on Running Water

Reynolds, David K., Playing Ball on Running Water: the Japanese Way to Building a Better Life. New York: Quill, 1984.

Reason read:

Morita psychotherapy is Japan’s answer to Freud. There are so many different takeaways from Playing Ball on Running Water. How about this: live life. Don’t think about it or talk about it. Just live life. How about that for simple?
Think about this philosophy: you can never step into the same river twice. As you can tell, this short book resonated with me in more ways than I expected. I struggle with procrastination (otherwise known as avoidance) and social anxiety. Reynolds addresses both. On a personal level the strange phenomenon is once I address the issue I had been previously avoiding I am pleasantly surprised at how easy completion turned out to be. Like going to a party for example. I dread the arrival, but on the way home I’ll reflect on the event, and ultimately be pleased with myself that I went. My takeaway is to be as present as possible. Sometimes, paying very close attention and staying focused will clear the mind. A tea ceremony, for example, is set at a very deliberate pace. There is no rushing the event and each moment is well-practice, providing a safe space for familiarity.
The second half of Playing Ball on Running Water is a series of short stories that illustrate the Moritist principles. The entire book is constructed to help the reader play ball on running water.
As an aside – another interesting aspect of awareness is the art of combining different foods to make unusual meals for variety. Would peanut butter and pickle sandwiches count?

Lines I liked, “When our attention is alert to notice what reality has brought to us in this moment and to fit ourselves to it by doing what needs to be done, we are living fully during each of those waking hours” (p 56), “Risk and struggle are essential to life” (p 60), and “…I know that these tactics for playing ball on running water are helpful for the extremely sensitive person” (p 96).

Author fact: Reynolds lived in Japan for awhile and spent time in Zen Buddhist and Tendai Buddhist temples.

Book trivia: Playing Ball on Running Water is less than 180 pages but it took me almost a month to read.

Nancy said: Pearl called Playing Ball on Running Water nontechnical, practical, and compelling.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the presumptuous chapter called “Help Yourself” (p 109).